Thursday, 10 January 2013

Branding Cities For Their Inhabitants: Buenos Aires vs. London

Whilst most cities have a symbol as well as a set of imagery and feelings associated with them, Buenos Aires takes the idea of a ‘city brand’ to a different level. Anything and everything that is sponsored or linked to the council is BA branded in contemporary and vibrant green-yellow design. From rubbish bins, to jazz festivals, to [their version of ‘Boris/’‘Barclays’] bikes and roadwork signs, living here means interacting with the BA brand every day.

This is a far cry from glitzy ‘destination’ branding normally targeted at tourists. The informal, straightforward tone of voice and versatile design are instead used to communicate with and engage the city’s inhabitants in an accessible, fun and helpful way. According to locals, this coherent and wide-reaching public sector brand owes to the private sector background of the city’s mayor Mauricio Macri  (himself with a swanky interactive website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) 

After the spectacular, albeit wet, 2012 no one would argue that Londoners lack urban pride. Moreover, being much older than Buenos Aires, London already has some iconic brands such as TFL, Harrods and Tate to say nothing of the Olympics. This eclectic list is much like London itself – a highly diverse mosaic of communities, styles, interests and attitudes. 

The city’s institutional attempts to brand governmental offices, schemes and departments is a whole different story. Mind-numbingly dull and unmemorable, these ‘brands’ would make the most politically dedicated marketer think twice about entering the public sector. No wonder the brand for London question has already been raised, discussed and abandoned a few years back. It seems impossible to please such a huge range of different stakeholders. 

Yet there is an advantage to doing it the Buenos Aires way. It helps the inhabitants see their city not just as a nuisance that collects council tax and creates jams through road works, but also as the provider of fun and support to which they have responsibilities. I suspect that if the tangible benefits Londoners get from the council were stamped as being such, we might be less complacent about all the ongoing improvements and appreciate how lucky we are to be living in such a great city.